Othello

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2005
directed by Jane Page

Matthew Penn as Iago; Elliot C. Villar as Cassio; John Cothran as Othello In Venice, the Moor, Othello-a great general in the Italian army-has secretly married the fair Desdemona. The dark-spirited Iago, recently passed over for promotion by Othello in favor of Michael Cassio, plots to destroy Othello's marriage and happiness in revenge. By Iago's covert design, the senator Brabantio (Desdemona's father) brings Othello to court to defend his inter-racial marriage. Othello appeals, citing Desdemona's true love; when the Duke realizes they really are in love, he releases Othello, and presses him into service defending Cyprus in the present war with the Turks. Othello heads to Cyprus, leaving Desdemona in Iago's care. Once Othello arrives in Cyprus, the Turks are defeated when a storm wipes out their fleet, and Iago arrives with Desdemona and his own wife, Emilia. He tricks Roderigo (who is in love with Desdemona) into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with Othello's lieutenant, Cassio, in order to further his plans for the Moor's undoing. That night, Othello sets the island to celebrate his nuptial, and Iago gets Cassio drunk, knowing that he will disgrace himself while under the influence. Cassio injures Montano, Othello's predecessor in Cyprus, in a drunken brawl. When Othello finds out, he relieves Cassio of his office. Having disgraced Cassio, Iago moves forward his plan to ruin Othello. He plants the seeds of jealousy in Othello's mind, painting the picture of a covert relationship between Desdemona and Cassio. Furthermore, he suggests to Cassio that he appeal to Desdemona to convince Othello to forgive and reinstate him. After the unwitting Emilia steals Desdemona's handkerchief and gives it to Iago, he plants it in Cassio's room. Though Cassio does not know where the handkerchief came from, Othello sees it in his possession and jumps to the conclusion that the alleged affair is fact. An envoy arrives from Venice to call Othello home. Consumed with anger at her perceived unfaithfulness, Othello berates Desdemona and strikes her in front of these dignitaries. In private she begs him to tell her what she has done wrong-he accuses her of being a whore, and leaves to find Iago. Manipulating the completely enraged Othello, Iago masterminds the murder of both Cassio and Desdemona. Iago, then enlisting the help of the hapless Roderigo, tricks him into believing that killing Cassio will get him closer to Desdemona (whom he still loves). As the night grows deep, Othello visits his wife for the last time and Iago's foul plan unfolds.

Date Time
Wednesday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Dramaturg: Rob Leary Elgin Kelley as Desdemona; John Cothran as Othello How is it that a powerful, intelligent, courageous man-a man who successfully leads an army-is easily and quickly manipulated to destroy what he most loves and values? This is one of the puzzles that fascinates me about Othello. Othello, the esteemed and valued general, is an outsider to the culture that so venerates him. Since he is from North Africa, he is naturally incapable of fully understanding the Venetian culture in which he works and into which he has controversially married. This phenomenon is prevalent even today, perhaps exacerbated by globalization. It's commonplace that the "outsider" is needed, wanted, depended upon and exploited, but not invited or encouraged to be part of the true fabric of a culture. Outsiders are part of our everyday world. These days we outsource military tasks to private mercenaries; employ illegal immigrants to do jobs Americans don't really want; and hire au pairs from foreign countries to care for our children. As in Venice, today's outsider is needed and wanted, and is very much a part of our lives. But as much as we use the outsider, we, like Brabantio and other Venetian senators, are threatened by the unfamiliar and often react with instinctive fears. This enables Iago to work his malice with impunity until it is too late. The United States is not alone in its use of outsiders. In Germany, Turks were recruited and employed during much of the reconstruction after World War II. Once the rebuilding was complete, many Turks stayed and raised their families in their adopted country. Many have been consistently denied German citizenship. Even today, many of these immigrant workers' children and grandchildren, though born in Germany, are not considered German citizens. During World War I, a fiercely bloody war, most European countries recruited soldiers from African colonies. Over a million Africans fought and more than a million others served in support positions. For me, this setting provides an effective locale for Othello. During World War I, Libya was Italy's colony, and Libya is Othello's home; Turkey and Italy were on opposing sides, and Cyprus is, of course, close to the southern coast of Turkey. In the play, Othello's exotic outsider quality makes him attractive to Desdemona and susceptible to Iago's insidious gossip and rumor. Passions run deep in this seasoned and successful soldier, and his aroused passion will tragically destroy all that he values.

Matthew Penn as Iago; Elliot C. Villar as Cassio; John Cothran as Othello In Venice, the Moor, Othello-a great general in the Italian army-has secretly married the fair Desdemona. The dark-spirited Iago, recently passed over for promotion by Othello in favor of Michael Cassio, plots to destroy Othello's marriage and happiness in revenge. By Iago's covert design, the senator Brabantio (Desdemona's father) brings Othello to court to defend his inter-racial marriage. Othello appeals, citing Desdemona's true love; when the Duke realizes they really are in love, he releases Othello, and presses him into service defending Cyprus in the present war with the Turks. Othello heads to Cyprus, leaving Desdemona in Iago's care. Once Othello arrives in Cyprus, the Turks are defeated when a storm wipes out their fleet, and Iago arrives with Desdemona and his own wife, Emilia. He tricks Roderigo (who is in love with Desdemona) into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with Othello's lieutenant, Cassio, in order to further his plans for the Moor's undoing. That night, Othello sets the island to celebrate his nuptial, and Iago gets Cassio drunk, knowing that he will disgrace himself while under the influence. Cassio injures Montano, Othello's predecessor in Cyprus, in a drunken brawl. When Othello finds out, he relieves Cassio of his office. Having disgraced Cassio, Iago moves forward his plan to ruin Othello. He plants the seeds of jealousy in Othello's mind, painting the picture of a covert relationship between Desdemona and Cassio. Furthermore, he suggests to Cassio that he appeal to Desdemona to convince Othello to forgive and reinstate him. After the unwitting Emilia steals Desdemona's handkerchief and gives it to Iago, he plants it in Cassio's room. Though Cassio does not know where the handkerchief came from, Othello sees it in his possession and jumps to the conclusion that the alleged affair is fact. An envoy arrives from Venice to call Othello home. Consumed with anger at her perceived unfaithfulness, Othello berates Desdemona and strikes her in front of these dignitaries. In private she begs him to tell her what she has done wrong-he accuses her of being a whore, and leaves to find Iago. Manipulating the completely enraged Othello, Iago masterminds the murder of both Cassio and Desdemona. Iago, then enlisting the help of the hapless Roderigo, tricks him into believing that killing Cassio will get him closer to Desdemona (whom he still loves). As the night grows deep, Othello visits his wife for the last time and Iago's foul plan unfolds.

The World of the Play John Cothran as Othello; Matthew Penn as Iago Director Jane Page has chosen to set this year's production of Othello during the first World War when war raged between the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and Italy, and colonial African soldiers were commonly pressed into service in the European armies. In Page's interpretation of Shakespeare's text, Othello is one of these African soldiers, raised to high command by his successes in the war. Ever the "outsider," Othello strives mightily to serve the interests of his adoptive nation and his men. Page's interpretation provokes thought on the promises made to those who sacrifice themselves to war, and the roles "outsiders" play in any culture-satisfying the needs no one "of" the culture desires to fill. From the cosmopolitan streets of Venice, the center of Italian government, to the war-torn island outpost of Cyprus, set designer David Barber creates a world of classic arches and tight quarters for the private revelations, accusations, and deceptions intrinsic to the action of Othello. Yet these spaces ingeniously pop wide open for the public proclamations and brawls intrinsic to the action of Othello. Lighting designer Michael Wellborn contributes, evoking the too-bright light and sharp shadows of the Mediterranean island's sun. Finally, the costume design by Patrick Holt contrasts the crisp historic uniforms of the Italian troops with the flowing, gauzy garb of Cyprus. Jane Page utilizes the overlap between these two worlds, pushing us to question what boundaries outsiders face in any culture, and how these boundaries are enforced.

Othello the Outsider Elgin Kelley as Desdemona; John Cothran as Othello Othello is ultimately the tragedy of an outsider. Although he is a valued military leader, Othello's African origins separate him from the rest of society. Not born into Venetian high society, he has made a place for himself at its forefront by his military exploits. In this sense, Othello is an unusual eponymous figure for a Shakespearian tragedy as he is neither a nobleman nor a member of a royal family (and is thus accessible to the general populace, more so than Hamlet the Prince, or Julius Caesar). Like many other characters in the play, he is a person used by the governing class to achieve their military and political goals. From the start, we are aware of Othello's separateness. Iago describes him in terms prejudicial and derogatory before we even know his name, calling him an "old black ram" and "the devil." Yet, when Othello finally takes the stage, his actions and words indicate he is an upright, honest, and confident man. The question then becomes: How does Iago come to manipulate a confident and noble man such as Othello? His marriage is happy at the start of the play, his confidence in his wife and his lieutenant Cassio is unwavering, but by the end of the play Othello is ready to kill the both of them in a jealous, murderous rage. Othello's position as a valued professional in the military has given him the opportunity to win the hand of a senator's daughter. However, society's strict but implicit rules regarding outsiders stand in the way of their happiness. Brabantio's accusation that Othello must have used witchcraft to woo Desdemona indicates what remains a prevailing attitude in Western society-that marriage between the races is not only unlikely but unnatural as well. Iago plays upon the insecurities that stem from these implicit societal rules to lead Othello to his undoing. His caution to Othello that Desdemona must prefer "her own clime, complexion and degree\ Whereto we see in all things nature tends" (III.iii.233-35), is the first of many perverse seeds that Iago plants in his superior's mind. The action of the play turns on Othello's marriage to Desdemona. In this marriage, Othello has broken a rule, however irrational it may seem to us. Though he knows he has earned respect as a citizen and a general, his marriage is his weak point, and Iago exploits it to the fullest. At the very end of the play, with his wife lying dead in their bed, Othello reminds himself and us how he gained such respect in the first place: "I have done the state some service. Like all outsiders, Othello's worth in society is intrinsic to the service he provides that society. He performs for Venice what Venice cannot do for itself. Though he is cherished as a Venetian general, this is not enough to be wholly accepted as a Venetian husband even, tragically, by himself.